In an effort to make their products ‘greener’, many companies are shifting their formulation strategies to include Naturally Derived Ingredients. While part of it could be a genuine concern to make healthier hair products, most of it however is marketing driven. Slapping a few plant names in the ingredient list has proven to make the products more appealing to customers. So the question is: Does adding these naturally derived ingredients make the products any healthier?
Naturally derived ingredients vs Natural ingredients
Most hair products contain water as the major ingredient. In shampoos for example water consists anywhere between 50%-90% composition, which is why the first ingredient that you see at the back of your product is aqua (water).
The rest of the ingredients (regardless of whether they are naturally derived or not) are acquired from chemical manufacturers.
An example is ‘hydrolyzed wheat protein’ often present in conditioning products, and marketed as part of green hair products.
On the left is what wheat looks like while the ingredient that formulation chemists use are on the right. As you can tell, they do not look alike. This is not to say that the ingredient is not derived from the wheat. However, one should understand that the wheat has to undergo chemical processes in order to end up in a usable form for formulation.
Another example is cocamidopropyl betaine used in mild shampoos and baby products. This ingredient is often referred to as natural because it is derived from coconut. But again this chemical comes from the processing the coconut oil with dimethylaminopropylamine. The coconut is natural but the Betaine itself is a synthetic chemical.
Are naturally derived ingredients Organic?
In a previous article, I talked about organic products : what they are in hair care and if they are truly organic. You will notice that products that have the USDA seal, do not have the naturally derived ingredients. Instead, they list actual natural ingredients. Many products claim to be natural but looking at the ingredients, you should be able to tell how clean/green the product really is.
Misleading Brand Names
Another aspect of green products are brand names that have names with the word Natural in them. An example is this eco-friendly baby care product: Naty by Nature Baby Care. The ingredients are biodegradable but none of these chemicals are natural. If anything, most of the ingredients have some health concerns from their impurities. See EWG here. Would I choose this over Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo? Personally, I don’t see the appeal if they are both gentle shampoos and both over 75% synthetic.
Hair products with Naturally derived ingredients are not necessarily better than their synthetic counterparts. Adding a few ingredients that come from natural sources may not have a significant impact on your health. Many people also add fairy dust ingredients that do not actually do anything for hair (such as vitamins), to reach customers better. So now you know: Check the ingredient list every time you reach out for a ‘natural’ product. If the list of natural ingredients is scarce, then the product is probably not that ‘green’.